Seasonal Flavors: Dandelion Greens and Sweet Potato Rotis


by Elena Day

As a very young girl I looked forward to March and in particular to the following early spring ritual. My mother and I would go down to a park by the Delaware River, in Trenton, New Jersey, where I grew up, on sunny, but still cold and windy days in early March to gather the first sproutings of dandelions.

In Italian these are called piscia cani, which has to do with urine and dogs,  (Although the word dandelion is derived from the French  dent de lion, meaning lion’s tooth,  the French also call them pisenlit  which has to do with urination in bed.)

We would cut the very youngest and tenderest sprouts, and when we returned home, my mother would wash them very diligently and shake them dry in a towel.  Of course, I thought all the washing had to do with the dogs and that business.

She would then heat two tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of vinegar in a sauté pan along with a clove of garlic sliced in two and an anchovy filet.  The anchovy would dissolve as the mixture heated up. After a few minutes she overturned the sauté pan onto the salad greens.  There it remained five or so minutes wilting the greens.  We would eat this with hardboiled eggs and tuna packed in oil and crusty Italian bread.

I always thought of this lunch as a spring tonic. Indeed it well may have, been since dandelions are a gentle diuretic, hence the Italian and French names. They are known to purify the blood, liver, and kidneys and recycle nutrients.

Nowadays we have many choices, even year round, of young and tender “spring greens” mixes. You need not pick your own, but the heated oil/vinegar dressing is worth a try any time, especially in March.


This year I have been consumed with what to do with our overly abundant sweet potato harvest of last fall.  An idea came via my son who worked this past year in Brooklyn. He often indulged in West Indian street food called “rotis.” Some were of goat meat and some vegetarian. I found a recipe for a sweet potato filling for tortillas and adapted it to rotis.  My daughter, who works full time, made it, proof that it is fairly easy and not time consuming.  One can cook or roast the equivalent of 4 cups or so of mashed sweet potatoes ahead of time.

 Sweet Potato Rotis

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in pan.

Add 1 tsp of mustard seeds and cook until they start popping.

Add 1 cup of chopped onions. Saute until soft and transparent (about 5 minutes).

Add 1 tablespoon chopped up or grated fresh ginger root (or you can use powdered ginger), 1 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp turmeric, 1/4 tsp cayenne, 1/4 tsp cloves, 1/4 tsp cardamom, 1/4 tsp cinnamon.

Continue to sauté a little longer. (You can add a bit of water to prevent sticking.)

You can also add a sweet pepper to the sauté mix; I am just too cheap to buy one out of season.

Mix in mashed sweet potatoes and 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro and 2 tablespoons lime juice (or lemon juice).

For the rotis themselves, I make half the recipe below.

  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼  cup oil
  • 1 cup water

Mix, knead briefly, and let stand for 15 minutes. Divide into six parts. Roll each out about 6 or 7 inches square and a little thicker than a tortilla. Add filling, maybe half a cup or so. Fold dough over and press down with fingers or fork tines.

Melt one tablespoon of butter in pan until bubbly. Turn down heat and place at least two rotis in pan.  Cook turning and browning on both sides.

I have also made them with a filling of half black beans and half sweet potato. Very yummy.